By Ray Birch
DANNEBROG, Neb.—After significant flooding across the Midwest hit this tiny town two weeks ago, the one credit union providing financial services to its 350 residents here feared the high waters might have washed out Dannebrog for good.
But the little town named after the Danish flag and which features a mural in the shape of a Viking ship is proving to be resilient.
What concerned Dan Poppe, CEO of Archer Credit Union here, is too many of the townspeople, and many of the businesses, would choose not to rebuild in this flood plain, and instead leave the city, eventually turning it into a ghost town.
“Two days after the flooding hit things looked dire for a lot of people,” said Poppe, who noted a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) rule does not allow for businesses or residents to reconstruct in a flood plain if damages exceed 50% of their structure’s value. “They would have to rebuild somewhere else, outside this town, which sits in a floodplain.”
Poppe feared a “domino effect,” starting with businesses, might occur quickly, if residents started uprooting instead of rebuilding from the flooding that crossed more than four states leaving behind billions of dollars in damage.
“Let’s say the credit union decides to leave, then maybe the only supermarket in Dannebrog says, ‘You know what, I will do that too.’ Then the bakery, and then others. Residents certainly would follow.”
But about two weeks after the flooding and that has not happened, and Poppe attributed the decisions to stay and rebuild to a few factors.
“First of all, and fortunately, the damages to the structures here for many have not exceeded 50% of their home’s or business’ value, and that is the case for our branch here as well.”
He also attributed the decisions to stay to the character of the people in Dannebrog, banding together and working hard to get through the disaster.
“They are strong,” he said.
Local businesses have also opted to rebuild and remain, and Poppe said that as long as the credit unions was allowed to rebuild in the same spot, there was never a doubt the job was to stay home.
“So, that's why we thought it's so critical on day one to start the cleanup at the credit union,” said Poppe, who estimates the damage to his building at $50,000 to replace sheet rock, a furnace, electrical panels, duct work and flooring. “We are getting our business going, and I heard from the grocery store owner that he initially wasn't sure he would rebuild but said, ‘I saw what you guys are doing and I said I guess I'm going to stick around too.’ The businesses have kind of led the charge, which gave confidence to the residents.”
The $69-million Archer CU was back with limited services two days after the waters crested, and in less than two weeks was fully functioning, despite the four staff at the office having to create somewhat makeshift, and cramped, work and member service areas.
“Our basement was fully submerged, so anything in the basement was gone,” said Poppe, recalling that rough weekend in late March when he first assessed the damage. “The furnace, electrical and telephone panels were down there. The air ducts had sand in them—anything in the basement was gone. The ground floor had 18 inches of water in it, so we had to replace sheet rock up to 33 inches. The furniture was gone, and the flooring was heavily damaged.”
Upper Level A 'Blessing'
Poppe said a “blessing” was having an elevated work area that is two feet above the ground floor.
“There we have the safe and a lot of our paper records, which thankfully were not damaged,” he said.
Archer also had planned to soon replace the ATM at the location due to the Windows 10 upgrade. The machine was destroyed by the flood.
“We had an ATM on order that was to arrive in a month or so. But the manufacturer learned we needed one now, and has sent it to us. Now we have a functioning ATM, which our members really need,” Poppe shared.
Poppe said he recognizes natural disasters are difficult for any town to recover from, but can be particularly tough for tiny towns like Dannebrog.
“In a small town you have businesses that claim 100% market share. So, if they leave, so does that service. And if too many people leave, there is not enough business for the retailers. We depend on each other. The town is resilient and is standing together. And while we now know flooding can get bad here—this is the worst the town has ever seen—we are confident about the future here in Dannebrog.”